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By Forrest Hershberger
View from the Handlebars 

When Freedom Isn't


March 30, 2022 | View PDF

It seems like a generation ago people were excited about MySpace. It was marketed as a way for people to stay connected. The fun and silliness of life could be shared; party town for the world to take part in.

A few years later, I press convention and the chatter was all about the excitement of publishing breaking news, as long as it was 160 characters or less. Within this timeline Facebook was also “born.”

I often wonder how many people envisioned how complicated things could get. The more mobile and electronic reporting becomes, the more “citizen reporters” become the latest and greatest. To be clear, community newspapers exist for and because of community members who pay attention to what is going on around them; sometimes the Paper knows when others tell us.

The citizen reporter I’m thinking of is the one who almost drools at the sight of someone, especially a public official, misbehaving in front of a cell phone camera. Then frequently the captured moment is broadcast on the owner’s favorite social media platform.

But what if some of the countless citizen reporters twist the event just a little? Sounds like some of the defrocked major reporters, doesn’t it?

When the senate committee, it feels like a few years ago, grilled the leaders of the major platforms about what they do to ensure accuracy of the news on each given platform, I was a little surprised.

I was surprised because up to that point, at least, the electronic platforms were programs without definition. Are they broadcast? Kind of, but not really. Are they newspapers? Not in the traditional sense.

So with elected officials demanding these platforms be more responsible for their content, it wasn’t long before they became the editors for social thought. Virtual bulletin boards were accessible only if the writer limited the message to company stated parameters.

The sad part is humor is being shut down. Comedians are complaining that political correctness social standards are curbing comedy, including sources that go out of their way to be known as satirical. The Babylon Bee has been taken off of Twitter.

The reason given is the Babylon Bee published a message that goes against the platform’s social standards.

Supporters say it is a private business, the social platform, and therefore can do what it pleases. If private business has that much freedom, why did it come under the scrutiny of the federal government for not editing its news feeds?

It wasn’t that many years ago, college bulletin boards were literally that, corkboards in the plaza with everything from textbooks for sale to “roommate wanted.” It was, at least in simple terms, where the explanation for social media started; a bulletin board, a sharing of thoughts and ideas.

The physical bulletin boards had limits, although not well monitored. Now with the electronic version, platform managers are expected to have a staff of researchers, fact-checkers, thought police to monitor what is published.

If people aren’t allowed to share their ideas even when abrasive, we’re only kind of free, limited by if we choose to play along or conform to social standards… which means we really aren’t free at all.

If we aren't happy with what is sometimes spewed on the social bulletin board, maybe social and moral values have changed. Then we need to decide how to proceed.


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